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There is no alternative to multi-channel retail

Does e-commerce mean the end of traditional retail shops with outfits for babies and kids? How can stationary retailers stay successful? The answer is not an “either or”, but an “as well as”.

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Digitalisation is particularly far advanced in the retail sector. This also applies for the baby and toddler outfitting sector. According to information from the Institut für Handelsforschung (Institute for Retail Research), the share of e-commerce in the industry’s total turnover was 18 percent in 2012, and thus significantly higher than in the entirety of retail sector where the share – according to the Handelsverband Deutschland (German Trade Association) – was only 9.4 percent.

What characterises a good online shop?

Baby and toddler outfits are increasingly being sold online. In order to successfully participate in e-commerce, manufacturers and retailers need to invest in their websites and online shops. But what characterises a good online shop? Experts recommend an attractive, colourful product presentation with inspiring photos, a useful zoom function as well as 360 degree models as vital ingredients. Descriptive product videos, concise information on product quality and recommended age, quality and test labels as well as customer reviews provide all the information parents require. Services such as free-of-charge returns, a contact address for inquiries, retailer search in combination with an interactive map and digital wish lists boost the decision to buy. Next to these need-to-have elements, a nice-to-have feature is to optimise the site for the use with tablets and smartphones.

How e-commerce changes traditional retail

But doesn’t successful e-commerce also mean the end of stationary retail outlets? “Not at all”, says Michael Gerling, Managing Director of the EHI Retail Institute, with conviction. Ultimately, phenomena such as the high losses experienced by Zalando as well as the upward trend in the stationary book trade – despite Amazon & Co. – prove that e-commerce alone does not guarantee a huge turnover. After all, there is a reason that some shops that started out in the virtual world, e.g. Mymuesli, are now opening up shops in the real one.

Retail expert Michael Gerling believes that the future lies in the „as well as“-model. Baby and toddler outfitters should tap into online channels while at the same time driving their stationary business. In fact, online shopping has changed consumers’ expectations and behaviour already quite a few years back. Many customers would like to have digital features in retail stores, and also the number of hybrid customers is increasing: They might search for information on the Internet and buy in the store – or do it just the other way round.

Create consumer experiences – in the digital and in the analogue world

In order to cater to consumers’ expectations, retailers need to invest in shop design and digital technology such as interactive display windows and apps for customer support as well as for the technical requirements to be able to send manuals or warranty documents directly to their customers’ smartphones. “Differentiation is the magic word”, emphasizes Michael Gerling,

Furthermore, a tight interlocking of stationary and online retail makes sense, for example allowing consumers to check online if a product is available in a store and then to immediately order it or to return online purchases in a store. Solutions like these ensure that e-commerce does not cannibalise, but in fact strengthen stationary retail. In addition, the more in need of explanation a product is – for example a stroller – the more customers value individual advise and service on site. This is a clear advantage for stationary retailers.

Digitalisation is changing the entire retail sector: multichannel will be the driving force in the future. The heart of the matter is not the question if online or stationary retail is better, it is creating a positive consumer experience – in the store as well as online.

Which retail channels do you actively use? Do you already have an online shop or don’t you deem it necessary? We are looking forward to your feedback!

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